Caring for Senior Goats

 

Buying goats is definitely a long term commitment as they can easily live to more than ten years. The oldest female goat on our farm died at 16 years of age, and another died at 14. Most of our does have died around age 12 or 13 while bucks usually die by 9 or 10. 

You might expect bucks to live longer since they don’t get pregnant or make milk, but I suspect that breeding season takes more of a toll on them than most of us realize. They have such a one track mind that they don’t always eat enough. Many people have noticed that their bucks may need a little grain to maintain their body condition during breeding season if their hay quality isn’t top notch and there is no browse available.

In addition, bucks will also spend a lot of time fighting with each other if they are penned with another buck during breeding season — especially if they can see does nearby. 

Wethers, which are castrated males, may be the longest lived of all. I have heard of a few of them living into the upper teens! They have zero stress through their lives since they are not producing babies, milk, or sperm, and they are not driven by their hormones to fight with each other during breeding season.

Aged goats and reproduction

As goats get older, their fertility may go down. A buck may not get a doe pregnant as reliably as he did when he was younger. We had one buck who became sterile when he was 8 years old. We had him in a pen with three does, and after they continued to come into heat month after month, I finally gave up on him. Within a few months, he no longer even smelled like a buck.

A doe that usually has triplets or quads may start having twins or singles. Unfortunately this is not always true, however, and a doe who may have easily nursed triplets in the past may not have enough milk for twins when she gets to be 8 or 9 years old. There are no guarantees either way, so you just have to be aware that she won’t be producing as much as she was in her prime, and weigh the kids regularly the first few weeks to be sure they are gaining weight appropriately. 

When one of our top milkers was 9 years old she gave birth to a single. Our routine with goats that have singles is to be the twin that wasn’t born and milk the doe from day one so that she has a good milk supply (because it’s all about supply and demand). We were not getting much milk when we milked the doe without separating the kid. Normally we would get an equal amount of milk if we separated the kid overnight and milked mom in the morning, or if we didn’t separated the kid at all and milked mom twice a day.

So, we decided to start separating the kid overnight to see what happened. We still did not get much milk, and the kid’s weight gain slowed down to a crawl. (Thank goodness we were weighing the kid!) After three days, we realized that at age 9, the doe could not produce enough milk for the kid and us, so we quit milking her so she could just grow the kid as big and healthy as possible. And we were very thankful that she had only had one! 

Maiden does and life expectancy

I am sometimes asked if pet does will live longer if they are never bred. Unfortunately you can’t make that assumption. Many years ago I sold two doelings to a young girl who was afraid something bad would happen if she ever bred them, so she didn’t.

A couple years later she bought their sister who had kidded twice on my farm. The buyer has kept in touch through all of these years. Her does had an ongoing challenge with obesity, even though they never had grain. The doe that had been bred twice actually lived the longest. The two maiden does only lived to be 9 and 10 years old, which is really young for a doe to die. 

I have a maiden doe that is 10 years old, and she has really slowed down in the past year. She has been overweight since she was about 3 years old, even though she only eats hay, browse, and pasture. She was never bred because she is so small that I’m afraid she would require a caesarean section, but she was otherwise quite healthy in her earlier years. 

Dental changes in senior goats

One of the biggest changes in goats as they age is their teeth. You can actually get an idea of their age by looking at their teeth. Most people who contact me about the declining body condition of their older goats have never thought about the possibility that their teeth may not be in great condition any longer. This means it could be very challenging for them to eat hay or browse.

You may need to feed them something soft like a small amount of senior horse feed plus soaked alfalfa pellets and soaked beet pulp. I don’t normally recommend beet pulp because it is just a cheap source of fiber and calories, but in the case of geriatric goats with bad teeth, it can be helpful. You should never give goats a feed simply to fatten them up before you know why they are underweight. 

Parasites in older goats

Some senior goats may have more trouble with parasites. However, this is not always true, especially with does. My doe that lived to be 16 usually had a rough time with parasites after kidding, but once she was retired, her parasite problems were pretty much gone for about five years. It wasn’t until a few months before she died that she needed a dewormer.

Arthritis in geriatric goats

Like many mammals, goats can get arthritis as they get older. If a young goat gets arthritis it may be due to an infectious disease called caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE). But if your 14-year-old goat starts to have trouble walking or bending her front legs before laying down, it could be arthritis. 

I have not been able to find any research on age-related arthritis in goats. Whenever you search for the words “arthritis” and “goats,” the results are filled with research on CAE, and the recommendation for CAE is euthanasia because it is incurable and highly contagious. 

There are approved supplements that contain MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin that are made for dogs and horses, and some people use them for senior goats also. Those supplements have proven to be very safe in humans, and some people have used them with their goats, but I have not been able to find any real research on goats in terms of safety or dosage.

For more information on treating arthritis in goats, as well as dental issues and weathering extreme temperatures, check out my interview with Dr. Michael Pesato from Mississippi State University.

Research needed on senior goats

The challenge with raising food animals — as goats are referred to in veterinary circles — is that most of them don’t live long enough to get old. That means there is no research on them. Since I spend a fair amount of time around the university teaching hospital I learned years ago that the emphasis on research with food animals is on herd health and keeping animals healthy enough to produce the food they’re meant to produce, whether it is meat or milk. If they can’t produce food, they are usually put down, especially if they are endangering the herd health.

It’s not profitable to treat individual animals with chronic conditions, which means it is not profitable to do research on health problems that only affect those animals. And geriatric goat care is definitely one of those areas that would not be profitable to study. 

senior goats

 

 

35 thoughts on “Caring for Senior Goats”

  1. My vet said that my 12 year old doe wouldn’t make it through the winter because her teeth are so badly worn down or missing. How much soaked alfalfa pellets or horse feed would I have to give her to sustain her if she can’t eat hay? I’m guessing quite a bit.

    Reply
    • Hay pellets are just pulverized hay, so you can give her as much as she’ll eat. I’d only give her a few cups at a time though until you get an idea of how much she will eat. Once you soak it, you want her to eat it within a few hours so it doesn’t start to grow mold or anything that might make her sick. As for the senior horse feed, I’d suggest a cup or two, depending on whether she’s a mini or a full-size goat. You want the senior feed because they can gum that. You can crumble it between your fingers.

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      • Thanks for mentioning this! It used to be a common practice years ago before alfalfa pellets became popular and easy to find. Since they are so small, they would be easier to eat for goats with bad teeth.

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  2. Our first goats (mother & son and cousin) were 17, 15 & 14 when they passed away. They were our entertainers, our weed and brush control specialists, they kept our fencelines clear of vines and shrubbery, cleared underbrush so we actually had more usable pasturage. Billy Briggs, (the wether) defended his herd from dog attacks, coyotes and snakes. He’d bulldoze brush down to the ground with his greater weight, so they all could eat the leaves.

    As they aged, our NW Florida winters, with strong N winds and biting damp temperatures below freezing were hard on them. I took to making warm mushes of alfalfa cubes and pellets, a little cracked corn or handful of sunflower seeds with a dollop of molasses and mineral salt for supper so everyone had a warm meal to get them through the night. If needed I hauled hot water for them to drink. And would repeat with a warm breakfast if needed.

    I also ordered insulated dog coats from Jeffers. I modified the neck opening to make it smaller, removed the leg straps and shortened the bellyband. Those coats really helped! The oldest doe could keep warm and it probably extended her life by at least a year.

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  3. Thanks very much for this information, it is so helpful as I raise my herd of NGs: 7, a lactating doe; 6, never bred doe, and two 2 year olds that I hope to breed this winter. However I still have never seen signs of either of them being in heat. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • You don’t mention having a buck. Sometimes does don’t go into heat or don’t act like they’re in heat if they don’t smell a buck. In those situations, I’ve heard of owners using a buck rag. Basically they take an old rag and rub it all over a buck, then store it in a jar so that it maintains its aroma. Then they open the jar and let their does sniff it every day. If a doe starts flagging or trying to rub on the rag, that’s a pretty good indication she’s in heat.

      I know you’ve read tons of my stuff, so I won’t repeat all of the info on copper and selenium, but deficiency of either of those can cause infertility.
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/infertility-goats/
      Also iodine is important for thyroid function, so deficiency can cause infertility. Kelp is a great source of iodine.
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/kelp-friend-or-foe/

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    • My friend said he had never seen his doe in heat either, he brought her to my farm to be bred. One day in the pen with my smelly buck and she was in full on heat. Mike are ND’s and go into heat every three weeks or so. Sometimes the only sign is a funny little sound they make. Good luck!

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  4. I have a 13 year old Nubian doe (never bred). Her sister died several years ago but she had seemed happy to just hang out with the horses and people. She never used to leave the property but had started going over to the neighbor next door to keep him company (right after he was widowed oddly). He loves her but she learned to cross the street because she would walk with him to get his mail. So, she is now living in a very large fenced dog yard (with a shelter) by herself.
    Last fall, she had an odd episode where she hid in her shelter and seemed to not be able to use her jaw properly. She had also dropped a lot of weight. There was also a rip in her ear. Not sure what happened, either animal attack or fence? I took her to the vet. OF course, she was fine by the time we got there. She spent the winter in a stall in the barn to be warmer and protect her.
    All winter, she would eat straw but not hay. She ate alfalfa cubes f or a few days, beet pulp for a few days, and I have had to switch her grains around as she stops eating them after half a bag or so. She will literally just not eat even with it free choice in a bucket.
    I see her foraging now and she moves around quite well. Runs over for treats (bread) but she is so skinny. Vet said her teeth were fine.
    Is she perhaps just lonely and on some level just uneasy by herself? Can’t say I wanted another goat necessarily but maybe I can find one to foster for awhile?
    Any suggestions on how to get weight on her? Is rice bran safe? Corn oil?
    Anything? I’m rather attached to the cantakerous character.

    Reply
    • Have you checked her eyelids to see if she’s anemic? Older goats tend to be very susceptible to worm infestations, so she might need a dewormer. Also check her carefully for lice, which can also cause a goat to lose weight.

      If that’s not a problem, you could give her a goat feed like Purina Goat Chow or Dumor Sweet Goat (at TSC, if you have one in your area). Both of them have a little molasses mixed in, which would probably encourage her to eat it more.

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  5. I have a pair of old wethers, both around 12-13, rescue goats so not entirely sure. The nubian is still fine, despite a bout with polio a couple years ago,. The lamancha was loosing weight, poor condition, vet looked in his mouth and said he’s got no back teeth left. Put him on horse forage extender and he’s bad in really good shape.

    Question, do you know the Ca – P ratio on peanuts? The lamancha developed UC after getting what was a fairly large amount of them.

    Reply
    • I don’t, but I have never heard of anyone feeding peanuts to a goat. Peanuts are a seed, and as a rule, too many can cause a variety of problems in goats. Even if the calcium-phosphorus ratio was not bad, I’d worry about digestive problems from feeding peanuts. Wethers should not have any type of grain (seeds), and they don’t need it because they are not producing semen or milk or babies or anything. If he just got into a bag of peanuts and ate them once, I’d expect that to cause rumen problems, not stones. Stones develop over the course of months when wethers and bucks are eating the wrong diet.

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  6. I HAVE AN OLDER NANNY GOAT THAT HAS BEEN BREED SEVERAL TIMES. SHES 9 years old. I HAVE HER 2 TWIN DAUGHTERS (NEVER BEEN BREED. The mama goat is starting to loose muscle mass. the vet suggested giving her a vitamin e capsule daily. i give her cambucha goat grain plus oats and black oil sunflower seed. both daughter are very bossy. They hay is a high quality alfalfa hay. they get treats of blue berry whole wheat newtons.and they do eat unsalted peanuts. Is she just getting old.? She has slowed down. I can feel her shoulder bones and both flanks seem to be srunk in a little. She has a space between her front bottom teeth.If she likes the food she has no problem eating it. Both daughters are food aggressive and attention aggressive towards their mom. And suggestions on having her gain some weight. she’s seems happy enough, chews her cud ,sleeps a lot. Appreciate any suggestions. they are all dwarf nigerian goats. thanks Can u recommend a book on aging goats

    Reply
    • Worms are a common reason for goats to lose weight, and as they get older, they seem to have less resistance. Have you checked her eyelids to see if she’s anemic? If yes, she probably has an overload of worms. If you’ve noticed her front teeth starting to go, then her back teeth may also be causing her problems. If she doesn’t have a worm overload, you might need to start giving her a little senior horse feed, which is made for animals without teeth, or you could try soaking alfalfa pellets for her.

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  7. Hi, Deborah! You have helped me so much in the past with my goats and I really appreciate it. I own two senior mix breed goats and they are beginning to have joint issues. My nubian mix especially has problems with his front knees. The vet has put him on meloxicam but I really don’t want to use a painkiller like that long term. I have hunted all over the internet for information on safe herbal painkillers you can use for goats and everything is SO contradictory. One person will say an herb is perfectly safe and someone else will say it is extremely toxic. It is getting very frustrating.

    I was wondering if you have any information or blog site about medicinal herbs (particularly painkillers) that you have used and experienced that are safe to use for goats?

    Any info would be much appreciated!
    Thanks so much for your help and all the great information you offer!
    Gayle

    Reply
    • Glucosamine and chondroitin are sold and used for dogs and horses, so I’d think it would work for goats, but I need to look into it more. I give my 13-year-old dog a dog food that has GC in it, and it has made a huge difference for him. He went from whining with every step and unwilling to walk up the stairs to acting totally normal. I would not use a dog supplement though because it has meat in it. They do make supplements for horses though, which are also herbivores.

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      • I’ve been using homeopathic remedies a spritz on arnica on molasses in the morning and a spritz of rhus tox on molasses in the evening. I use Meloxicam as well.

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  8. We have a wether who is 8 and has beginning of arthritis too. Our vet has him on meloxicam long term too.
    I’ve tried glucosamine and msm but it didn’t seem to work. I’m also wishing we didn’t have to use meloxicam long term. But really that’s the only thing that seems to work well on his pain he seems to have with his joints.

    Reply
  9. Thanks for the suggestions! I did just purchase something called “Ow-Eze” (liquid supplement) and a bag of arthritis joint support specifically formulated for goats from a site called Molly’s herbals. I have used her herbs in the past and they seem to be pretty good. I am going to try these and see if they help. If so, I will post again and let people know. I know its uncommon to have older goats and hopefully we can find something that will help these guys get through their senior years and I would love to pass the information onto others it might benefit as well.

    Reply
    • DO let us know how these herbals work for you. I ha e aging goats and will be curious. I give our kids Molly’s Ow-eze before disbudding/tattooing and I believe it helps them with the pain and stress. I haven’t used it for chronic pain. Let us know!

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      • I came across this discussion today and figured I’d add that I’ve used the Molly’s Herbal joint/arthritis blend with good luck with a 10+ year old maiden doe with minor arthritis. I had her on myloxicam but even though it was a low dose I hated to have her on it long-term so I started looking for alternatives. She did well on Molly’s Herbal and I was able to take her off the myloxicam completely. Her twin brother (a wether) injured his leg and seemed to be recovering slowly so I tried him on the herbs. They didn’t seem to do much for him but I’ve had good luck with tumeric with him. Maybe coincidence but I was able to really lower his myloxicam dose when I give him a small dose of tumeric daily (started at 1/8 and gradually increased to 1/4 tsp), his limping and stiffness noticeably decreased. It’s one of those things that’s worth a shot since myloxicam does have long-term concerns. Hope you find somthing that works for your critters!

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  10. I have an 8.5 year old doe who is loosing condition this winter. She started exhibiting a strange behavior with her pellets where she would abruptly stop eating and shake her head and make little distressed noises. I thought she might have choked at first so I started soaking her feed. This worked for a few days but the behavior continued. She still has an appetite but will leave most of her mush and eats hay and pasture. Do goats need their teeth floated like horses or do they simply loose teeth as they age? What else can I do for her? Her eyelids are nice and pink.

    Reply
    • Teeth floating and losing teeth are two different issues. Goats do lose teeth as they get older, so that could be the problem. I have heard of people floating teeth on older goats, but it’s almost impossible to find a vet who will do it. I have not actually seen any research on that topic. Teeth are barely mentioned at all in the goat vet textbooks.

      Reply
      • You can purchase a pony sized float. When they start losing back teeth, the corresponding ones no longer have anything to grind them down. With them staying longer, they start cutting into the gums where the missing teeth were. This is probably why she’s head slinging.. it HURTS to chew so she’s trying to get rid of it.
        You WILL need help holding the mouth open and a bright light to see way back in there. Grind the long tooth down even with its partners. If you don’t feel that you can do this, have a Vet help you. It’s fairly easy though. The tool is approximately $70 when I purchased mine about 15 years ago.

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  11. I have a goat I got last year from auction, she had a set of twins and her milk production was great (both were fat, healthy babies.. ) but she just seems older.. I don’t know her age or her medical history but she’s not as athletic as the other goats I have. She can barely jump up onto the milk stand (which my 3 week old kid goats can easily jump on) and my milk stand is only about 2 1/2 – 3 ft tall.. this morning she half jumped up there but couldn’t get her hind legs all the way up (she sort of belly flopped onto the stand LOL) her weight seems pretty decent for a nanny goat her size and she has no trouble gaining or eating.. could she have some joint stiffness or pain in her hind legs that’s sort of inhibiting her jumping up on things? We give our large dogs fish oil supplements when they get older to help with hip and leg arthritis so could I try that with her? She’s a great doe and I think she could have one or two more sets of healthy babies but I just want her to be as comfortable as she can especially since it’s cooler and wetter weather down here.

    Reply
    • I do not recommend buying goats at sale barns or auctions because that is a popular way for people to get rid of animals that have CAE, Johnes, or CL, which have no obvious symptoms in the early months or years, and there is no cure. CAE stands for caprine arthritis encephalitis, and it can cause arthritis, which is usually in the front knees, so that the knees are swollen. As it progresses, the goat will have trouble walking and bending the knees, so they may lay down with their legs straight out in front of them. If she has hair growing on the front of her knees, that’s a good indication that she is not tucking her front legs under her like a goat with healthy knees. Milk production may also go down as the disease progresses. It is transmissible through milk, so if she had it, she’s given it to the kids. Here is more information about CAE, as well as a picture of a goat with swollen knees:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/working-to-eradicate-cae/
      I would get her tested for CAE using the ELISA test, which is much more accurate than AGID, which has a lot of false negatives, which makes it practically worthless.

      If she is having trouble jumping up on the milk stand, I would not breed her again because it’s a lot of work to carry the extra weight of kids when pregnant.

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  12. Has anyone had any issues with an older goat (13) having their horns start to peel and crack to the point of breaking off? I have an older wether nubian mix and his horns are almost disintegrating from the inside out, especially on one side. The top portion has a crack all the way across the horn and wobbles when touched so I believe it will eventually break off. The vet looked at him and said since he has a good source of minerals (Sweetlix meat maker) and good quality hay, he thinks its just age and not a mineral deficiency which was my first guess. My other goat who is the same age and eats exactly the same way has no horn issues at all but is a different breed. Just wondered if anyone ever experienced that in an older goat before?

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  13. I have a 13 year old wether who has just been officially diagnosed with age related arthritis. He is on meloxicam for pain but I have seen many people have used Cosequin ASU for goats pretty successfully as well. Someone mentioned though that if you use Cosequin there are ingredients in it that could block the absorption of certain minerals (such as calcium) so you would need to supplement those. I am not sure what ingredient in Cosequin ASU would cause that. Any ideas? Thanks!

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  14. I have a 21 1/2 year fainting goat who is starting to look a bit skinny. She is favoring a back leg, but not bad. I had to give her TODAY twice in her life. She loves bananas. Her brother passed last year. My question is, what feed is the best I can do for her. We have been feeding her Seminole horse Wellness senior as we only have one goat. And the soaked alfalfa. Is that good enough?

    Reply
    • Wow! Congratulations on having a goat live so long. She must have had a great life! Sounds like you’re doing the best you can for her at this point. I assume she also has a loose goat mineral available. I’ve been trying to find an expert on senior goats, but not really having any luck because most food animals don’t live that long. Animal scientists don’t really focus on individual health of livestock that much. They are mostly concerned about contagious diseases and herd health. I’m going to continue looking though!

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  15. So wish there was more studies on older goats too. I have lost my last goat this week at the ripe old age of 17. Arthritic for a few years and on twice daily pain meds plus a “growth” to the base of her horn that I have been suspicious of for a while as it never seemed to heal. This week the horn came away with a lot of bleeding and she also started drinking loads which made me suspect kidney issues . The vet said she would probably not survive the sedation to fix the horn, it would not address the underlying “growth” and in the UK with winter nearly here would not cope well with the cold and damp re the arthritis. The vet was brilliant but admitted there were not many studies on older goats as with his mainly “beef cattle” work problems like arthritis and cancer are not really major issues. As more people in the UK keep Pygmy goats as pets I have seen attitudes change over the 22 years I have owned them and now, for example, issues like urinary calculi have many more treatment options. I have in the past had MRI’s and Ct scans on my goats by specialist vets but they were on younger animals. I think things will change as they become seen more as pets rather than produce but we are a long way off them having the same options as a pet dog.

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    • So true! I have wanted to have a guest on my podcast to talk about senior goats, but I’ve had a hard time finding someone who feels like they know enough about senior goats.

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  16. I wonder if Dr. Signe Balch here in Colorado would have enough experience with senior goats. She does a lot of research and works with goats over a wide area here in the front range. My goats are just getting into the senior range of 12 years old and thankfully have not needed special care yet. Good to know what to look out for. Our desert climate has made for easy goat keeping once the minerals were figured out. Grateful to have an expert goat vet in our area!

    Reply
  17. I have an 18 year old wether goat. I’ve had 2 vets out to look at the green discharge from his nose. Appears to be his cud. He sneezes it out his nose. Fecal was neg. and no temperature. Vets have no clue. Said take him to university of ga . One person recommended Bovi Sera. Any advise? He gets probiotics, timothy hay, Vet rd for nose, vitamin b, etc. Help please. I love this goat. I rescued him 18 years ago. Thank you! My email is jolynn24@aol.com

    Reply
    • As I am reading your long list of supplements, this could be a case where you are killing him with kindness. Wethers don’t need anything other than grass hay, pasture, loose goat minerals (NOT “sheep and goat”), and fresh, clean water. Goats are the ultimate fermenters, so they don’t need probiotics on a regular basis. Even if they are given antibiotics, most usually don’t need probiotics to get back on track. They also create their own B vitamins in their rumen. I would suggest eliminating all of the “extras” for 2-3 weeks and see if there are any improvements. If not, then I agree that taking him to the University vet hospital is your best bet to figure out what’s happening.

      Reply

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